If you have this impulse control disorder, you can't resist urges to steal items that you generally don't really need and that usually have little value.
Kleptomania (klep-toe-MAY-nee-uh) is a mental health disorder that involves repeatedly being unable to resist urges to steal items that you generally don't really need. Often the items stolen have little value and you could afford to buy them. Kleptomania is rare but can be a serious condition. It can cause much emotional pain to you and your loved ones — and even legal problems — if not treated.
Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder — a disorder that involves problems with emotional or behavioral self-control. If you have an impulse control disorder, you have difficulty resisting the temptation or powerful urge to perform an act that's excessive or harmful to you or someone else.
Many people with kleptomania live lives of secret shame because they're afraid to seek mental health treatment. Although there's no cure for kleptomania, treatment with medicine or skill-building therapy that focuses on dealing with urges may help to end the cycle of compulsive stealing.
Kleptomania symptoms may include:
People with kleptomania usually have these features or characteristics:
If you can't stop shoplifting or stealing, seek medical advice. Many people who may have kleptomania don't want to seek treatment because they're afraid they'll be arrested or jailed. However, a mental health provider usually doesn't report your thefts to authorities.
Some people seek medical help because they're afraid they'll get caught and have legal problems. Or they've already been arrested, and they're legally required to seek treatment.
If you suspect a close friend or family member may have kleptomania, gently raise your concerns with that person. Keep in mind that kleptomania is a mental health disorder, not a character flaw, so approach the person without judgment or blame.
It may be helpful to emphasize these points:
If you need help preparing for this conversation, talk with your health care provider. Your provider may refer you to a mental health professional who can help you plan a way of raising your concerns without making your friend or relative feel defensive or threatened.
The causes of kleptomania are not known. Several theories suggest that changes in the brain may be at the root of kleptomania, and that learned patterns of stealing items strengthens the problem over time. More research is needed to better understand these possible causes, but kleptomania may be linked to:
Kleptomania is not common. But some cases of kleptomania may never be diagnosed. Some people never seek treatment. Other people are jailed after repeated thefts.
Kleptomania often begins during the teen years or in young adulthood, but it can start later. About two-thirds of people with known kleptomania are female.
Kleptomania risk factors may include:
Left untreated, kleptomania can result in severe emotional, family, work, legal and financial problems. For example, you know stealing is wrong but you feel powerless to resist the impulse. As a result, you may be filled with guilt, shame, self-loathing and humiliation. And you may be arrested for stealing. You may otherwise lead a law-abiding life and be confused and upset by your compulsive stealing.
Other complications and conditions associated with kleptomania may include:
Because the causes of kleptomania aren't clear, it's not yet known how to prevent it with any certainty. Getting treatment as soon as compulsive stealing begins may help prevent kleptomania from becoming worse and prevent some of the negative consequences.
Kleptomania is diagnosed based on your symptoms. When you decide to seek treatment for symptoms of possible kleptomania, you may have both a physical exam and psychological evaluation. The physical exam can determine if there are any medical causes triggering your symptoms.
Because kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder, to help pinpoint a diagnosis, your mental health provider may:
Although fear, humiliation or embarrassment may make it hard for you to seek treatment for kleptomania, it's important to get help. Kleptomania is difficult to overcome on your own. Without treatment, kleptomania will likely be an ongoing, long-term condition.
Treatment for kleptomania typically involves medicines and psychotherapy, or both, sometimes along with self-help groups. However, there's no standard kleptomania treatment, and researchers are still trying to understand what may work best. You may have to try several types of treatment to find what works well for you.
There's little scientific research about using psychiatric medicines to treat kleptomania. And there is no FDA-approved medicine for kleptomania. However, certain medicines may help, depending on your situation and whether you have other mental health disorders, such as depression or substance misuse.
Your provider may consider prescribing:
If medicine is prescribed, ask your health care provider or pharmacist about potential side effects or possible interactions with any other medicines.
A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy ones that can be used in different situations when needed. Cognitive behavioral therapy may include these skill-building techniques to help you control kleptomania urges:
It's not unusual to have relapses of kleptomania. To help avoid relapses, be sure to follow your treatment plan. If you feel urges to steal, contact your mental health provider or reach out to a trusted person or support group.
You can take steps to care for yourself with healthy coping skills while getting professional treatment:
If your close friend or family member is being treated for kleptomania, make sure you understand the details of the treatment plan and actively support its success. It may be helpful to attend one or more therapy sessions with your friend or relative to learn the factors that seem to trigger the urge to steal and the most effective ways to cope.
You also may benefit from talking with a therapist yourself. Recovering from an impulse control disorder is a challenging, long-term undertaking — both for the person with the disorder and close friends and family. Make sure you're taking care of your own needs with the stress-reduction outlets that work best for you, such as exercise, meditation or time with friends.
People with kleptomania may benefit from participating in self-help groups based on 12-step programs and those designed for addiction problems. Even if you can't find a group specifically for kleptomania, you may benefit from attending Alcoholics Anonymous or other addiction meetings. Such groups don't suit everyone's tastes, so ask your mental health provider about alternatives.
If you struggle with an irresistible urge to steal, talk to your health care provider. Be honest with your provider about your symptoms. Having that discussion can be scary, but trust that your provider is interested in caring for your health, not in judging you. You may be referred to a mental health provider, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, with experience diagnosing and treating kleptomania.
You may want to take a trusted family member or friend along to help remember the details. Also, someone who has known you for a long time may be able to ask questions or share information with the mental health provider that you don't remember to bring up.
Here's some information to help you get ready and know what to expect from your provider.
To prepare for your appointment, make a list of:
Some questions to ask may include:
To better understand your symptoms and how they're affecting your life, your mental health provider may ask:
You may be asked more questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing for questions will help you make the most of your appointment.